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Resuming a Blog

Well, I’ve been away from the world of writing, reviewing, and blogging for some time, and I’m hoping to be able to return to that now. I had been spending most of my time over the last 2 years completing a process to become board certified as a Canine/Feline specialist. I took my exams this past week in San Antonio and I’ll find out whether I passed in about 45 days.

alamo

My last post here mentioned my application to NASA’s astronaut program. While I did make it as far as the highly-qualified group, I don’t know that I’m going to get an interview. It looks like the last few weeks of interviews are filling up, and no one from the astronaut office has called me (yet).

I have started participating in triathlons just in time to improve my cardio for my first year fencing in the Veteran’s age category. I have been looking forward to the Veteran’s age group for a long time, and my first national-level competition will be in Richmond in December, although I’m hoping to sneak in a local tournament before that. I plan to do more triathlons also, but not until the spring. Despite the rumors, I have no immediate plans to do anything near Ironman length!

As far as my fiction goes, the greatest problem I have right now is figuring out which project to pick up first. Should I revise the two short stories that I absolutely love, but no one has yet wanted to publish? Perhaps I should pick up an old rough draft and finish that (there is one in particular that keeps calling to me). Or do I plunge right back into a novel? And which one – space opera, epic fantasy, or alternate history?


Random updates:

Reading now: Contact by Carl Sagan

Writing now: just blog posts

Workout focus: running – I have a 10 mile race in 2 weeks

Eating: unhealthy as I’m traveling this week

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Want to avoid fencing injuries? Don’t be lax about the safety rules. Here are some true stories of what can happen.

The Fencing Coach

Capture

In a recent study on Olympic sport injury rates, Fencing ranked among the safest sports listed. Given the fact that Fencing is a combat sport rooted in duels to the death, it should come as a surprise that such a ferocious sport would be safer than say, Badminton or Table Tennis.

Yet, our equipment is (mostly) refined enough to prevent any serious bodily injury outside of pulled/torn muscles or cramps. Rarely does one see an injury related to impact with the intact blade, and if you’re wearing quality gear, most forceful hits feel negligible in terms of pain.

The more comfortable we get with safety, the more more our attention to safety can slip away. As I’ll detail later on in this post, I’ve been guilty of this myself. Sometimes you’ll see folks bouting only wearing shorts without knickers. Sometimes the underarm protector will be forgotten. I’ve seen an instance where a…

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Fencing Shoes!!

I just stumbled upon this article on fencing shoes today. It is a little bit outdated, written in 2011, but most of these models of shoes are still available. It also provides a nice overview of what fencing shoes are designed to do.

The Comprehensive Guide to Fencing Shoes

If you’re prone to foot problems, be sure to find a pair of shoes that is suited to your weapon’s style, your individual practice needs, and any previous fencing injuries.

Hitting the Reset Button and Moving Forward After Summer Nationals

Check out this article by Damien Lehfeldt over on fencing.net.

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Rest and Recovery in Sports

One aspect of sports training that is often overlooked is the importance of rest and recovery time. In a discipline such as fencing, when the season has stretched so much that an athlete can find a competition at any time of year, it is doubly important for our bodies to find some down time. Rest allows the body to heal and reset. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, studies have shown that performance can increase after a period of mental and physical recovery.

Photo by Esther Simpson, shared under Creative Commons license.

Photo by Esther Simpson, shared under Creative Commons license.

Fencing parents take note – the young athlete is at particular risk of overtraining and overuse injuries. The bones in children and teens have not finished growing and are not as strong as those of adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put out a nice set of guidelines on this subject here.

A period of rest can also allow more longstanding injuries to heal. This is one of my main reasons for taking a short break from training at this part of the year. Aging athletes take longer to recover than younger ones also. As I creep closer to the Veteran categories for fencing, this also becomes a consideration for me. For a nice summary of tips to help improve recovery in athletes over 35, look at this article.

There is also a mental aspect to overtraining syndrome. Symptoms can include depression, irritability, headaches, insomnia, and a decrease in enthusiasm for the sport. Some athletes may think that they will feel better if they can just train harder, when it is the opposite approach that is needed.

Go get some rest! Photo by Paul Dunleavy, shared under Creative Commons license.

Go get some rest! Photo by Paul Dunleavy, shared under Creative Commons license.

With Summer Nationals over, there is a natural break in the fencing schedule for me. With no particular exercise in the last 4 days, my leg muscles already feel much better. I plan to take at least two weeks off from fencing practice, but will start some light exercise later today. I plan to limit this to easy cardio, light weight training, and yoga and stretching. Next week I hope to get on my bicycle for some cycling in the warm summer weather. Cross training in sports and activities other than your primary discipline can help with recovery.

What do you do for your recovery? Do you schedule it ahead of time or wait until you feel that you need it?

 

Summer Nationals – Day 3

I’ve actually arrived back at home by now, but I didn’t want to let more time go by before I finished up my posts on the 2014 Summer Nationals.

This final day of competition for me saw me in Division I-A. This was a tough event, and my opponents were at a level that I’m not usually used to fencing. 100MEDIA$IMAG1365

Unfortunately my legs had had enough of all the lunging and jumping back and forth and my fencing prowess went rapidly downhill from my first bout. The ideas were there, but I couldn’t execute them. At least I didn’t finish last.

I wanted to go back now to show some photos and video of the event. Here is a general view of the convention center from where I’m standing at the side of one of the instant replay strips.

If anyone would like to see the full results for any event in the tournament, you can look at this link on the US Fencing Association’s page.100MEDIA$IMAG1368

This next photo shows one of the equipment vendors. They have everything from blades to shoes.

The USFA also posts videos of the finals on their youtube account. These are great to watch to see some nice fencing, but also are useful to learn from.

Lastly, here is a video that I made with one of the club’s men’s sabre fencers (on the left) in a first round bout in Division I.

 

 

Summer Nationals – Days 1 and 2

It’s been a whirlwind of fencing here in Columbus, Ohio. I had planned to write a post each day, but time got away from me yesterday. Too many bouts to watch, too much equipment to buy, and too many friends to see.

That’s one thing that isn’t obvious to a newcomer to such an event. For those of us who have attended, oh, more than a dozen of these, you will run into teammates, friends, and competitors that you haven’t seen in days, months, or years. It’s an opportunity to catch up, cheer each other on, and grab dinner and maybe a few drinks.

So the end result of that was that by the time I made it back to the hotel, I was overcome by sleep before I could blog.

Yesterday I fenced Division III – 12th of 100. Today I fenced Division II – 24th of 96. One more event to go. I’ll get some photos of the venue for tomorrow’s post.

I have to add that the sports medicine staff has been great. My back was stiff and sore after the 8+ hour drive to Columbus, before I ever fenced. I was afraid that after day 1 of competition, my back muscles would stiffen up worse than ever and I’d be ruined for the rest of my events. One short trip to Jeremy (who has worked on my back before), and I was as good as new.

Here is a video of the gold medal bout for the men’s sabre Division I-A event. This bout happened a few days ago, but it takes them a little time to get the videos edited and posted. A few tips for watching:

  • Yes, the referee is speaking French
  • There is a strange pause at 3-7. This is because the fencer on the left asked for video review. There is a second referee sitting in front of a computer that can show an instant replay of the action.
  • Once one fencer reaches 8 points, there is a one minute break.
  • On the last touch, there is another video review request.

I bought two more pairs of socks today. They’re the best fencing socks that I’ve found.

Who else fenced today? When you’re not there fencing, do you watch other events, shop, socialize, or head back to the hotel’s jacuzzi?

Summer Nationals – Day 0

It’s finally here! Summer Nationals started on June 22nd, and hordes of fencers will be converging on the Columbus Convention Center in central Ohio through July 3rd. If you missed my earlier post, you can catch up on the basic facts of the event here.

This year I decided to drive because I’m fencing on three separate days and the airfare was rather unfriendly. I packed my tournament equipment, which doesn’t differ much from my everyday practice equipment at this point. I threw an extra lamé in the car, double-checked that my competition mask was in my bag, and tossed a lot of extra socks in my suitcase. About nine hours later, I have arrived!

Dinner or fire?

Dinner or fire?

I have checked in at an Extended Stay America for the week, which features a kitchen. I unpacked my cooler, and since it was too late to order dinner anywhere, set to work cooking myself a carb-heavy meal. I searched out a plate, spatula, knife, fork, and colander, only to discover that I lacked a pot to boil water. With a quick trip to the lobby, I obtained two pots. The woman working at the front desk seemed surprised that I really wanted to cook. Wasn’t that one of their advertising points? She warned me to be careful not to set off the smoke alarms.

Nutella

Dessert – Nutella with strawberries

Well everyone should be happy to know that I managed to boil water without setting off the sprinklers. I don’t fence until the afternoon tomorrow, so I hope that this meal will stay with me through the day. I don’t like to eat much immediately before or during a tournament. Most importantly though, I remembered dessert!

Each event in a tournament is given a check-in window an hour in length. The first round of fencing typically starts thirty minutes after the check-in ends, although with the increased prevalence of computerized tournament software, sometimes this happens faster. I used to plan on arriving at the beginning of that window, but for tomorrow I’ll probably arrive earlier than that. I need to allow enough time for my warmup.

For the first day of competition, I’ll have to take my equipment to be tested and approved by the armorers. They will evaluate it for safety and conductivity. Once each piece passes for the first event, it doesn’t need to be retested on the following days.

I don’t have any particular rituals or routines that I need to perform before my event. I’ll bring an iPod with some music for my warmup. If I’m at the venue early enough, I’ll watch some of the other events. I might scan the vendors for interesting new gear, although I rarely buy anything until later in the day.

For other fencers, how do you prepare on the day before a tournament? Do you have a unique routine? Does it differ for a local event when compared to one where you need to travel?

Summer Nationals – US Fencing’s Super Event

On occasion, someone will ask me how long the fencing season runs. This isn’t really a fair question – as fencing has grown in popularity in the last decade, the season has expanded to the extent that you can find somewhere to fence any time through the year. You can look at several different aspects of fencing in this regard – the NCAA season, local events, national events, club practices, or training camps. Even with this variety, a lot of fencers still conclude their season by competing in the US Fencing Association’s largest event – the super-sized tournament known as Summer Nationals.

Summer Nationals has events for everyone – with all three weapons included, men’s and women’s divisions, and age groups stretching from under 10 years to over 70 years of age. The event is held at the end of June/beginning of July, and rotates through different locations across the country. This year, it will be in Columbus, Ohio and runs from June 22 to July 3.

Unfortunately, not every fencer can compete in Summer Nationals. The tournament has grown so large that, for most of the events, an athlete must qualify by competing in local competitions earlier in the year. The main events are divided into four divisions – I, IA, II, and III. Division I is restricted to the most elite athletes and can only be entered by those with a rating of A, B, or C. For more information on the rating system, see my post here. For Divisions IA, II, and III, the fencer must have finished within a certain percentage of the field in a local qualifier or a designated regional event. Divisions II and III also restrict the entrants to only those fencers of lower ratings.

After Summer Nationals concludes, many fencers may take some time off over the summer. Others will head to training camps held in a variety of locations either in the US or abroad. Local competitions typically start up again in September, with the first North American Cup (national event) held in October.

After my ankle injury last spring, I had to withdraw from the 2013 Summer Nationals. This year, I’ll be fencing in Division IA, II, and III, as long as I don’t have any other accidents before then!

 

Asymmetry in Fencing

With the fencing season in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to return to the topic here. Today I’m going to point out how strange fencers’ bodies are, how that may lead to injuries, and how it may influence any fictional fencers you are writing about.

For a beginner, fencing presents some unique challenges that can be encountered before one even picks up a blade. The en garde stance, the movements forward and back, and the lunges are not a movement that most people would encounter in day-to-day life. Compare this to a sport such as soccer, where anyone can start play on a basic level because you already know how to run. There are certainly rules to learn and techniques to practice, but even a newbie can run across the field. Many beginning fencers that I have watched over the years have a lingering level of awkwardness that will persist for a month, six months, even longer, depending on their development.

Lunging fencer. (c) Sylvain Sechet, reposted under Creative Commons license

Lunging fencer. (c) Sylvain Sechet, reposted under Creative Commons license

Fencing is also asymmetrical. It might be fun to swing one sword in each hand, but for now that isn’t in the rules for the sport. This will lead to more muscle development in the dominant arm, although fencers don’t typically grow “big” arms from their sport. The weapons are all lightweight, but the repetition will eventually lead to some disparity between your limbs.

This asymmetry extends well beyond the weapon arm. All that footwork practice builds muscle in the quads, hamstrings, gluteals, calves… really the entire lower body. Most fencers will find that as their footwork improves, their front leg grows larger than their rear one. Even the muscle on the front of my right shin is larger than that on the left. If you are writing about a character who is new to fencing, that person will be SORE when they are learning the footwork. I remember feeling this mostly in the quads. Nowadays, if I return to practice after a break, I will feel it more in my hamstrings and gluteals.

In my own experience, I have found that I can lunge all day with my right leg forward. After so many years, it feels like a natural movement to me. However, switch to the left and I nearly fall over if I try to lunge with any sudden force. (I also run into walls at home, though.) Switching from the use of your dominant hand to the opposite one will also require that your footwork reverses itself. This is more challenging than it sounds.

A few years ago, I strained a muscle in my side. I stood in front of a mirror and tried to figure out what exactly I had done. I raised my shoulder, poked at my ribs, and in the process, I discovered that I had weird muscles on one side of my body that weren’t present on the other side! Okay, that’s not completely accurate. The muscles existed on both sides, but on my right side (I’m right-handed), they were more developed, and thus more visible because of the nature of my fencing movements. Fencing requires a lot of strength and coordination in the core muscles – the abs and back. The legs propel a fencer, but the core muscles allow the fencer to remain upright and coordinated when changing the direction of movement suddenly.

Even more experienced fencers may struggle with long hours of footwork practice. That lunge is never quite good enough, and there are patterns of footwork that must be repeated in practice so that they become second nature in a bout. Most fencers would rather fence practice bouts than drill footwork, but good footwork translates to good distance, which is critical to putting all your skills together to score the touch. For more about the importance of distance, read my earlier post here.

Graphic by Jen Christiansen, Illustrations by MCKIBILLO; Source: Lars Engebretsen, University of Oslo

Graphic by Jen Christiansen, Illustrations by MCKIBILLO; Source: Lars Engebretsen, University of Oslo

In terms of injuries, fencers will be more likely to have bruises on the side that faces their opponent. For example, a right-handed fencer will tend to get more bruises on the front of the right leg, the right elbow (ow!), and the right shoulder. I have over-exerted myself and developed a minor strain in my right hamstring more times than I can count. I have jammed my toe into the front of my shoe on my front foot and had my toe nail fall off months later (also multiple times). I’ve had tendinitis in the elbow of my weapon-arm. I’ve had blisters on my right hand and thumb (and not my left). I don’t know that anyone has studied the incidence of front-leg versus rear-leg injuries when looking at more serious incidents. I have torn ligaments in both ankles. Overall, fencing is still an extremely safe sport. For those interested though, I go into more detail about other types of injuries here.

Has anyone seen a truly ambidextrous fencer? I have, and there are rules about how often you can change which hand you use. What other sports share the same type of asymmetry? Does anyone else have any experiences or injuries that might be related to this asymmetry?

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